Days 155-162: Whistler Film Festival

After not getting much sleep the night before, I took a nap and then talked with my best friend, Misty, on the phone. I looked out the window as we talked and could see that snow was falling! I had been waiting for this day for nearly a month.

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The next day I walked to the gym and worked out. The walk was always beautiful, but it was definitely colder outside.

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It was Monday night and time for another free game night at the library. I arrived and saw my two new friends from Japan who I had met at game night two weeks prior. There was another girl from Japan, a guy from Germany, and a girl from Germany who joined us.

We decided to play Monopoly since the girls from Japan had never played before. The girl and guy from Germany had played before, but not a lot. I grew up loving that game, so I was pumped to teach new people how to play.

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Kristina was from Germany and helped me teach the others. Saya, Misato, and Serena from Japan were quick learners. Kristina was in Whistler with a one-year working visa. She was working at a hotel in housekeeping. Misato and Saya were also there for a one-year working visa. We didn’t get a chance to talk too much because we had to play the game.

We were only allowed two hours and by the time we started to play, we had an hour and a half. After an hour, I realized all of the properties were sold, but not many people had a set. They couldn’t buy a house or a hotel, so each time someone landed, it was only $15 for rent. I told the group they needed to start trading, negotiating, and making big moves because we only had 20 minutes left to play. The game can take many hours, so I helped facilitate trades to move it along. Even though we were allowed to stay a little later, we had to quit playing before someone actually won.

We finished around 9:30 pm and I walked over to Brickworks, a pub, to get a drink and some food. When I sat down at the bar, the Irish bartender asked me if I wanted the same beer that I had two nights before when I was there with Josh. I thought it was awesome that he remembered me and my drink – I was definitely feeling like a local.

I spent the next few days writing, working out, and living in my little studio. On the city’s website, I saw that the Whistler Film Festival was in town. I bought a ticket to a few showings and was looking forward to watching some new movies.

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My first showing was on day 160 at 9:00 pm. The movie was called Stockholm and featured Ethan Hawk. The only other film festival I’ve attended was Sundance in Park City, Utah, several years ago. I saw the movie Boyhood, which also features Ethan Hawk. The movie was great! It is about how the phrase “Stockholm syndrome” came about when an American robbed a bank in Stockholm and held hostages. The movie was well done and entertaining. Once it ended, the director was there to answer questions from the audience.

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The next evening, at 9:30 pm, I took the bus to the village and walked around. The funny thing about Whistler is that it seems most people are in their 20s-30s, but there are hardly any children around. It often feels like living in an international college town full of snowboarders and skiers who love to party. I ended up at Blacks to listen to some live music. I sat alone at a tall cocktail table and enjoyed the one-man band.

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The next morning, I had my next movie showing: Untogether. The movie is about relationships and was ok. The Executive Director was there and talked about how dramas don’t make a lot of money at the box office, so they need people to support them at festivals.

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I walked over to Portobello’s for lunch. At the register, the girl told me that she also saw the movie Stockholm. She said her boyfriend was bummed that they didn’t have cocktails and she didn’t know it was based on a true story until I told her. Clearly she didn’t stay for the Q & A.

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I walked around the Fairmont Chateau and then down the street to the Four Seasons Hotel because they had a Festival of Trees. Outside, frost covered the ground. Each blade of grass and fallen leaf was covered in crystals. It was a cold walk over there and my nose started to run.

Inside, there were several Christmas trees beautifully decorated in the lobby. Downstairs, there was a tree-decorating competition, which included a tree surrounded by hockey sticks and an upside-down tree.

In the afternoon, I headed to another theater that was playing An Audience of Chairs, a film about a woman struggling with mental illness. The movie was very well done and I couldn’t help but cry throughout it. I was embarrassed when they turned on the lights for the Q & A with the director. However, the entire theater was full of tear-streaked faces and sniffling noses.

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I walked around the village afterward and it was now dark outside. I was thankful for the darkness so my puffy eyes could be concealed. As I walked back towards my car, I saw a sign for a showing of The Radicals. Tickets were still available so I bought one and stood in line.

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The documentary touted itself as “environmentalism meets action sports,” so I thought it would be interesting. It was made by some locals in Whistler and I sat next to the director in the packed theater. The documentary was just ok. The problem with it is that they had two themes going on: the beautiful shots of snowboarders flying down the mountain in the powdered snow; and the activists fighting against the salmon farms and BC hydro for limiting water in native villages. I understand they were trying to connect it because some snowboarders have become activists, but I felt like the movie should have focused on one of the topics.

After the movie, they had around eight to ten people at the front to answer any questions. Most of them were the native tribe leaders who were interviewed in the film. Unfortunately, nobody was doing a good job of moderating and a couple of people told extremely long-winded stories, often repeating themselves. It took about an hour to get through the stories and monotoned pleas for activism. I wanted to get up and leave, but I’d have to walk in front of everyone, so I just sat there.

Overall, the film festival was great and I had a chance to support independent artists and their films. If you’re ever near a film festival, I encourage you to buy single tickets and see the films you’re interested in seeing. It’s a great way to help ensure the production of movies other than big box-office hits.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 95: Train Wreck and Suspension Bridge

I checked out of my Airbnb and sat in the parking lot to book my next place in Vancouver. I didn’t get the chance to visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge last time I was there, so I was heading back to see it. Before leaving Whistler, I wanted to see a literal train wreck.

I found the trail online, but the directions were confusing because there were two ways to get there. I ended up off the side of the main road on a small gravel shoulder. I found a small trail with a sign stating that I could hike at my own risk.

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I was wearing jeans, my hair was down, and I was carrying a purse. I wasn’t prepared to hike because I thought it would be a quick walk to the train cars. The trail I was on was steep and in a wooded area. It was a shorter distance than the flat path from a parking lot, but it was definitely more of a hike. I wished I had a hair tie as my sweaty hair stuck to my neck in the humidity.

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I arrived to a set of train tracks and just after I crossed, I saw the damaged train cars. In 1956, a train derailed on a section of the track that was undergoing construction and had a speed limit of 15 MPH. The freight train was going 35 MPH when it crashed. Three cars were wedged in the narrow canyon and a local logging company brought their equipment to the site to assist with the clean up efforts. According to a sign posted at the site, “Five of the derailed boxcars were salvageable, but the remaining seven were too damaged to save. Those seven boxcars were stripped of useful material and dragged out of the way, which was the quickest way to get trains back on schedule.”

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To access the train cars, people had to walk down the unsafe track, so the city created a trail. They also added a bridge over the Cheakamus River so people could safely access the site. I accidentally took the non-approved way to the site.

There was just a handful of people walking around taking pictures, so the area felt isolated and eerie. Spray paint covered the rusty cars and the metal was dented and bent.

This was just one more reason why I loved Whistler. There are so many unique places to discover. The giant train cars were fascinating to explore.

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I hiked back to my car and headed towards Vancouver. It was a beautiful, sunny day. When I drove up there from Vancouver a week earlier, it was a cloudy, rainy day and I couldn’t see much. This time, I could for miles and miles.

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I stopped a couple of times to take in the view. Lush, green mountain tops with the occasional snow-pack covered the mountains in the distance.

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As I got closer to Vancouver, I could see the ocean to my right. The sun glistened off the water. The Sea to Sky Highway was appropriately named.

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I arrived to the Capilano Suspension Bridge about two hours before they closed. That would be enough time to explore, but I’d have to hurry. The bridge is 460 feet long and 230 feet above the Capilano River.

I briefly joined a free tour with a guide and a few people, but he was taking too long so I ventured off on my own to explore. During my brief time with the guide I learned that the bridge was originally built in 1889 by George Grant Mackay because he wanted to hunt on the other side of the river. In 1903, the bridge was replaced with wire cables. The bridge was sold a couple of times and was completely rebuilt in 1956.

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In 1983, the bridge was sold to Nancy Stibbard, the current owner. In 2004, Nancy opened Treetop Adventures: seven footbridges suspended between old-growth Douglas Fir trees. The guide told us that the bridge was originally purchased for $6,000 and is now worth 7.2 billion dollars!

I arrived at the bridge and was terrified to cross it, but I had to in order to get to the tree top bridges. I stepped onto the bridge that was sturdy, but also shaky. It’s a long, scary walk to the other side. When people passed me, the bridge would sway to the left and right several inches, making me feel like it would flip over. I gripped the side railing as hard as I could and tried not to look directly down to the raging river. I told myself that thousands of people walk across this bridge everyday and they all survived.

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I happily made it to the other side and started to explore the wooden path that wound through the giant trees. I came to a section that overlooked the river where  people throw coins onto a large boulder to make a wish. I contributed and made my wish (can’t tell you what it was or it won’t come true!)

The last thing to see on that side of the bridge were the tree-bridges. This is a series of rope and wooden bridges that take you from treehouse to treehouse.

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Even though I was high off the ground, I was loving it! I felt stable enough that I didn’t feel like I’d fall. It reminded me of my favorite Star Wars movie – the one with Ewoks. Me and my sister used to have stuffed Ewoks growing up and I loved playing with mine. He was my buddy that I carried around. Walking across the trees took me to the Forest Moon of Endor (home of the Ewoks).

Once I finished with the tree-bridges, I walked across the main suspension bridge to get back to the other side. This time there was less people on it, so it wasn’t as shaky.

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Next to the bridge on that side was a walkway attached to the rock wall. It jetted off the side and I walked across it. I walked quickly and had to keep telling myself I would be fine. The drop below was terrifying!

I finished my adventure right as the bridge was closing. I only planned on staying in Vancouver one night because the following day I was taking the ferry to Vancouver Island. I knew I wouldn’t get there until late and I would leave in the morning, so I booked one of the cheapest rooms I saw for $34.

I ate near the house so I wouldn’t have to go back out once I checked in. The neighborhood wasn’t very nice and I was getting a little worried about my choice. I parked on the street and arrived at the Airbnb around 8:00 pm. It was dark outside and I followed the instructions to get inside, which said the front door is left unlocked.

I was renting a room with a shared bathroom. The owner lives there and the living room and kitchen are not shared. He rents out several rooms so he keeps the front door unlocked, but each room has its own key.

In the foyer was a rental room to the right and stairs leading upstairs. The rest of the main floor was closed off. I walked up the stairs with my bags and two men in their 30s were talking in the living room near a massage table. I tried to open the door to my room, room three, but it was locked. The key was supposed to be left in the door for me. I asked one of the guys who was wearing a robe if he was the owner and he said he was. I explained my door was locked. He checked and said, “Hm, they must have taken your room. Here, just take room four. It’s better anyway.”

Room four was right next to room three. I opened the door and there was a box spring and a mattress on the floor with a comforter. The plain room had a small desk and a tv on a simple stand. The walls had smear marks on them like someone tried to wipe them down, and nails were left where pictures once hung. It smelled of weed and spices, and it was hot. I opened the window since there wasn’t air conditioning and the noise from the metro came roaring inside.

I went back to my car to get some things, like my small fan. Once I was back inside my room, I heard the owner talking to another guest, “Hey! It’s a girl so you can put the moves on her.” The guest laughed and replied, “No, that’s the Colombians.” WTF, I have no idea what that meant. Of course they were surprised. No sane single woman would be staying in this bachelor pad.

I waited to use the shower until I thought everyone was asleep because I wasn’t about to leave my locked room. The bathroom was right next to my room and I used it first to assess if anyone was still awake. As I came out, a guy from downstairs peaked his head up, “Do you know how to use the shower? I couldn’t get it to work.”

I looked and noticed it had the same set up at an Airbnb I stayed at while I was in Anchorage. I showed him how to use it and he was grateful. I had to wait for him to shower and then I showered.

I went to bed feeling creeped out. This was one of those times traveling as a solo female can be scary. I made a choice to spend as little money as I could find on Airbnb and I definitely got what I paid for. Just like crossing the bridge earlier that day, I told myself I would be fine. This was a day of positive self talk!

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 64-65: Hiking Flattop Mountain in Anchorage

I spent day 64 sleeping in, running some errands, editing a video of a recent backpacking trip, and eating leftover pizza. The following day, I took my car to the Subaru dealer for an appointment about my broken window.

When I arrived, I explained to the guy about my experience in Fairbanks and how there is a broken mechanism, but they didn’t have the part. They assured me that Anchorage, being a larger city, would have the part. After waiting for an hour and a half, he came to the waiting room and told me that they do not have the part.

I was angry and asked why he didn’t check to see if they had the part sooner. He explained that they had to take my window apart to confirm which part was needed (and still needed to put it all back together). He could order it, but it wouldn’t arrive for seven-ten days. Frustrated, I told him I wouldn’t be there because I was flying to Colorado for a wedding. After arguing with him and talking with his manager, he agreed to pay for three day delivery and repair the window when I returned from Colorado.

I planned on hiking that day so I went back to my Airbnb to change my clothes and grab my gear. It was recommended that I hike Flattop Mountain trail, which is about three and a half miles and 1,500 ft elevation gain. I was happy the parking lot wasn’t crowded since I heard it was a popular trail.

It was about 50°F, cloudy, and misty. The trail started out at an incline, but was fairly smooth with a few rocks. The green trees looked bright against the looming clouds whisking above.

The trail quickly turned difficult. Immediately, rocks popped up on the trail, and I was cautious to avoid a sprained ankle.

Then the stairs appeared – wooden blocks that had been dug into the dirt on the side of the mountain. Set after set of stairs appeared, forcing me to stop to catch my breath. The other people on the trail were also pausing from time to time to take quick breaks.

As the trail continued to climb, the clouds started to cover the trail and it was difficult to see much farther than about 30 feet. The mist was attaching itself to my arm hair, making it appear white.

As I got close to the peak, the trail wound its way through rocks the size of basketballs. The trail was hard to find through the rocks, so I was following a group of people ahead of me until I lost them into the fog.

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The trail seemed to disappear, so I stopped to look around for where it continued. Three guys in their 20s-30s who had been behind me stopped, and I asked if they knew where the trail continued. They responded, “We were following you. It’s our first time here.”

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The four of us navigated the trail together. We realized the “trail” continued up the sharp boulders. It was wet, visibility was poor, and it seemed unsafe. I wasn’t going to continue, but they convinced me to stay with it. I had come that far and I really wanted to see the flag that was supposed to be at the top.

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I left my trekking poles at the base of the boulders and started to climb. The guys grabbed my hand and helped me to the top. We were the only people up there and it was indeed flat. I heard that some groups host festivals at the top from time to time and I couldn’t imagine people carrying everything up the mountain.

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We walked around on the flat surface, which felt like walking on the moon with the rocks below us and visibility only about 10 feet. I found out the guys (Colin, Robert, and Newman) were in the National Guard stationed in Tennessee. They worked in computer science and were in Anchorage for training purposes for the week. They laughed and said they were doing more training than learning while they were there.

We talked about things to do and see in Alaska while they there. I told them I quit my job, sold my house, and was traveling. Newman responded, “Wow, you hear of people doing that, but I’ve never met someone who has. How do we do that?”

Unfortunately, there were not any views due to the thick fog. I didn’t mind much, however, because the atmosphere added an element of mystery to the mountain. The guys were shocked when they noticed their facial hair was white from the freezing mist. We walked back to where we climbed up, towards the flag. We took pictures and I was really happy I made it to the top, even though my legs were shaking.

Newman brought a glass jar of peanut butter and jelly and was eating from it. Colin was in heaven because his wife can’t have peanut butter in the house. Two girls made it to the top and said they were from St. Louis, Missouri (where I grew up). It’s such a small world.

As we made our way down the boulders, Robert helped me down by lending his hand. He said, “I like your dinner bell” referring to the bear bell hanging from my backpack. I explained my encounter with a bear in the Yukon a couple weeks prior and why I now hike with a bear bell.

We got to the base of the boulders and three guys from the Air Force were climbing up. They asked about getting to the top and we explained you have to use your hands and feet. They decided they had enough of the tough trail and headed down.

The National Guard guys hiked down the mountain with me. I pointed out the berries on the side of the trail and ate some. They were hesitant, but I assured them I had been eating these berries since my time in Washington and they were fine to eat. The clouds cleared up a bit and we were treated to some really beautiful views of Anchorage and the ocean.

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We got to know each other better and watched a group of 7th grade hockey players running up the stairs with their coach. When we arrived to the parking lot, the other guys they came with were waiting for them to go eat dinner. We said our goodbyes and I thanked them for helping me climb up the boulders.

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I got back to my Airbnb, showered, and watched a romantic comedy. For some reason I had been really into them those last couple of weeks and had watched a few. I did laundry, which was upstairs where the owners lived. I felt like I was sneaking into someone’s house, so I tiptoed and tried to be quiet. That’s one of the funny things about Airbnb’s, you don’t even know the people whose house you’re sneaking around in.

My body was sore as I laid down to sleep. The hike was beautiful and I was thankful that those three guys were there to help me get up and back down the mountain. This is one of the reasons why I don’t mind traveling alone. People are generally very friendly and helpful. It’s an opportunity to see the goodness in human beings.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 59-60: Homer, Alaska

When I was in Fairbanks, the bartenders recommended that I go to Homer because it looks like the postcards of Alaska. They said it was a great, quaint little town on the water and was very walkable because all of the shops/restaurants are close together.

It was raining when I hit the road and clouds hovered around the mountains as the rain toggled from a sprinkle to a downpour over and over again. Once I got through Denali, the drive was flat and there wasn’t much to see. I talked with my cousin, Misty for a bit and that helped break up the monotony.

I passed through Anchorage, but still didn’t see much. After Anchorage, the next hour held incredible views as the road wrapped around the base of the mountain to the left and the ocean to the right. On the other side of the water were more mountains.

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It was a stunning drive until the landscape became fairly flat again for the next three hours. I talked to my friend Debbie and it helped with the long drive.

I arrived at the Airbnb around 8:30 pm. It was a large house on the side of a mountain, overlooking Homer and the Spit. The house was beautiful, had a front and back porch, and a bright green well-maintained yard. Two rooms are rented out, but I was the only guest.

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Jerry let me inside and showed me my room, the bathroom, and the kitchen. He was 68 years old, had a gray, neatly-trimmed beard and mustache, and exuded a strong sense of confidence. His wife, Corrine, was in her 60’s, had long dark hair, manicured nails, was fit, and beautiful.

Jerry asked if I wanted a beer so I accepted a Corona. He got himself some whiskey. Corrine showed me a map of Homer and gave me some suggestions on what to do while I was there. She said, “Jerry calls me his wife, but we’re actually divorced. We were married for 30 years but we’ve been divorced for about four years. He bought this B and B and called me up and asked if I’d come help him run it so here I am.”

We all sat on the front porch, taking in the amazing view and watching the sunset. Their nine-month-old fluffy white little dog named Daisy took turns being cuddled by Jerry and Corrine. It had stopped raining but was still wet outside. It was also about 50° F so we put our jackets on.

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I learned a lot about Jerry and Corrine. Jerry is from Wisconsin and Corrine grew up a military brat, but had been in Anchorage for 38 years. They worked together at a transportation and moving company. Jerry had worked his way up to Vice President and Corrine worked in Sales, but they were retired now. They have a daughter and a granddaughter who live in Olympic, Washington and a son and grandsons who live in Anchorage.

Corrine went back inside while Jerry and I continued to chat. After retiring, Jerry did some consulting work in the transportation and moving industry. But then he decided they should escape the winters and move to Prescot, Arizona – where they had a friend. After two years, they decided to divorce and Jerry moved back to Wisconsin. He grew up there and still had friends and some family there, but he quickly realized things changed a lot over the 30+ years he’d been gone. He jokingly told me that his 50th high school reunion was coming up in the fall, but he didn’t want to go so he told his friend he had to stay in Alaska for moose hunting season. He laughed, “And he believed me!” Maybe it was the alcohol, but we laughed so hard at that.

When they lived in Arizona, Jerry was the president of the Home Owners Association. We shared horror stories (I was an HOA president for a condo complex in California) and Jerry told me about a tree he had cut down because it was damaging the wall near it. The guy who owned the house near the tree liked the shade and told Jerry, “I’m going to think you’re an a**hole from now on.” Another time, Jerry called animal control about feral cats roaming the neighborhood because he was worried they were carrying diseases. Some residents got angry at him and said they were going to call PETA because they loved cats. Jerry and I agreed that being president of an HOA is a thankless job that you can’t win.

Jerry had dated a few women – one he met at Costco. She was serving food samples there. I asked if he’d tried online dating and he responded, “If I can’t meet a woman in real life, there’s a problem.” Recently, he had dated a woman who lived in Seward (a couple hours north of Homer). This is a woman he dated on and off for nine years before he got married to Corrine. He said they realized there was no passion and they felt like roommates. Things were just different than the decades before so they broke up. Jerry was cracking me up. He is funny, smart, and was a boss. He’s super friendly and I could see why the women loved him.

Corrine told me in the kitchen (with Jerry not around) that she had tried Match.com in Arizona and within 20 minutes, she had over 200 matches. I could see why. She looked amazing for her age, and was a spunky and fun woman. She said some of the guys on there were terrible and didn’t have anything to their name. We both agreed that it’s best to date someone who is your equal. Equally successful and hardworking.

After living in Wisconsin for two years, Jerry decided to buy the house in Homer to make it a bed and breakfast. He bought the house based solely on pictures because there were six people coming to look at the house the following day. He had just broken it off with that other woman and called up Corrine in Arizona and asked her to help him run it. They had only been managing  the bed and breakfast for the last couple of months.

I asked Jerry why they got divorced. He said they both worked so hard all their lives, it was go go go. After they retired, they moved to a retirement place for those 55 and up, but it turned out most people were around 70 years old. He described one guy who would go get the paper, bend down and Jerry would be worried he wouldn’t get back up. Jerry and Corrine were the youngest ones there. They went from 90 miles an hour to 1 mile an hour. They just grew apart and had nothing to talk about.

I told Jerry I was divorced. He said, “It must be hard being single at your age. You’re in your prime. What are you, 32?” I told him I was 38 and he responded with, “You’re still in your prime.” We stayed on the porch talking until around 12:30 am.

In the morning, Jerry had cooked up breakfast – fresh caught salmon, hash browns, and eggs. He sat with me at the table and we talked about politics. I told him that while I was in Fairbanks, I was told there was a vote coming up about “save the salmon” that was an initiative created by a group of people in Oregon and asked if it was true. Jerry said, “Yes, it’s true. And the vote is no.” He described it the same way the couple had in Fairbanks. The initiative would hurt everyone living in Alaska. We sat outside drinking coffee, waiting for it to warm up a bit.

I headed to the Homer spit, which is the largest one in the world. The spit is a 4.5-mile long piece of land jutting out into the Kachemak Bay. The harbor serves up to 1,500 commercial and pleasure boats at its summer peak. Homer has a population of about 5,500 people and has fairly mild winters (for Alaska standards). The average temperature in the winter is 25° F.

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I drove to the end of the spit, at Land’s End. There were huge rocks at the end so I sat there for a long time, just absorbing the sun that had come out, feeling the wind on my face, and looking across the water to the mountains. The waves crashed as a boy threw rocks into the water for his dog to happily chase them into the shoreline.

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I walked around all the shops as I enjoyed some taffy and a latte.

After a couple of hours walking around, I went to the Salty Dog Saloon. The bartender in Fairbanks, as well as Jerry and Corrine, had told me to check it out. It was the only bar on the spit and there are dollar bills hanging from the walls and ceiling inscribed with notes from the bar’s visitors. Every November, the owners take down a lot of the bills and donate them.

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I walked into the dark, low-ceilinged dive bar. It was crowded, but there was one seat at the bar available. Most of the tables were taken as well. I sat down, ordered a beer, and the guy to my left started talking to me. His name was Matt and he had a short beard, was probably in his early 40’s, and was an average-looking guy. He told me about his two ex-wives in Minnesota, which he assured me was a low number of ex-wives for crab fishermen and joked that he’s “collecting ex-wives”. He described his marriages like this, “My first wife saw that I made good money crab fishing, own a commercial boat, and she wanted a kid so she got me to marry her and have a kid. We were married for about five years. My second wife was a midwife and wanted to live in the desert so we divorced. But I got some good kids out of it.” His oldest was 21 and his youngest was 13. He assured me he gets along with his ex-wives really well.

Matt owns a successful commercial crab fishing boat. He asked me why I was there and I explained my journey. He asked where I was staying and I said, “At an Airbnb.”

“Where?”

“Just up the road.”

“Well that’s pretty vague”.

Ugh, I’m not giving you the address, dude. Matt asked if I was married, single, or divorced. I said I was divorced and he follow it up by asking if I date. I told him that I do date but it’s hard while traveling. He bragged about how successful he was and showed me a video of one of the guys from the show Deadliest Catch. He knows him and the video showed them all hanging out at a fishing place. I ordered another beer and he pulled out his wad of cash and paid for it. He was getting more aggressive and I was feeling uncomfortable.

Matt asked if I had checked out the harbor and I said I didn’t know you could walk down to it, but I saw it. He said he has a boat there and he could give me a harbor cruise. I said I’d pass. He kept asking what I was doing for dinner and later that evening. I said I didn’t know. He finally started to get the hint, but as he was leaving he made me take his phone number and said to call him if I wanted to get dinner or go see his boat. I wasn’t attracted to him, but most importantly I didn’t get a good vibe from him. I usually have good instincts so I tend to trust them. Plus, it’s a big turn off when a guy brags about his money. It’s so much better when you just discover it. No need to brag.

I went to the restroom and hanging from the mirror was a little plastic holder with about six condoms in it. This was the second time I had seen free condoms in the bathroom.

There was a jukebox in the corner so I walked over to play some music. There was already credits available because the bartender wanted people to play music. I saw some songs like Ice, Ice, Baby. I quietly chuckled to myself out loud as I imagined that song playing in a dive bar full of fishermen. I picked a few songs and returned to my bar stool.

A guy came over and sat down next to me. He was also in his early 40’s and had a black/gray beard. He reeked of cigarette smoke and was rough around the edges. He chatted for a bit and then asked if I needed another beer. I turned the bottle so the label was blocking his view of my mostly empty beverage and said I was good. He seemed annoyed. Shoot, he clearly saw that my bottle was almost empty. He drank his mixed drink and said, “Too bad the bartenders like me. Too much alcohol in here.” I didn’t want to go through the whole situation again of trying to politely decline his invitations, so I quickly left.

I walked around the shops and the harbor a bit and soaked up the sun. It got up to 60° F and the sky cleared. The view was so peaceful. I sat on a bench overlooking the harbor, but then realized the first guy might still be around, looking for me to take a ride on his boat so I quickly got out of there.

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I hadn’t eaten dinner so I drove to a place that served tacos, according to Yelp. I sat at the bar and texted with the guy I connected with on Tinder in Vancouver. I went back to the Airbnb with 7-Up and Pimms Cup and made some drinks for Jerry and Corrine and we sat on the porch. After 20 minutes, we went inside to finish the movie they had been watching, Chalet Girl. It was actually a good movie about a girl snowboarding and of course, involves her falling for a rich cute guy (she’s poor). After we finished that, we saw a movie on Netflix called Coffee Shop – a romantic comedy. They made some delicious fresh popcorn and we watched the movie like we were a family.

The movie finished and none of us were tired. Jerry was out of cigarettes so he ran to the store to get some more. Corrine and I chatted about relationships. When Jerry got back, we all grabbed a drink and sat on the porch with our jackets. Daisy, the dog, cuddled up with each of us.

Around 1:45 am, Corrine went to bed while Jerry and I stayed out until around 2:15 am talking. Since it was a late night, we all agreed to sleep in. I woke up in the middle of the night breathing heavily and burning up. I had a nightmare about that first guy from the bar. He was driving me somewhere in a truck and when he stopped to drop me off, he tried grabbing me and kissing me. I had my arms out, pushing against him and trying to open the door. I got it open and jumped out. After running through a closed-down amusement park, I thought I had a large enough lead that I could escape for good. But then he came around the corner. There was another entrance I didn’t know about and he was close to me. He started running towards me and I ran towards the hill I needed to climb to get home. But it was like slow motion. I thought “I’ll never be able to outrun him. He’s going to catch me.” And then I woke up, panicked. It was really scary. I didn’t realize how much that guy had freaked me out. I tried to go back to sleep, but it was hard not to think about it.

I was woken up at 9:00 am by my doctor’s office asking for my new address. I couldn’t go back to sleep so I played around on my phone and finally got ready and packed up. It was almost 11:00 am and Jerry was outside drinking coffee and about to make breakfast. The next guest had asked to check-in at 11:00 am since his flight was arriving early. He was coming in town for a wedding over the weekend.

I felt guilty for keeping Jerry and Corrine up so late and he still had to cook us breakfast. I changed the sheets for him and put the dirty ones in the washer so the room was ready for the next guest. I put my bags by the front door and Jerry made pancakes and sausage.

As Jerry cooked breakfast, he told me about how he grew up poor in Wisconsin. They lived on a small dairy farm and didn’t have a refrigerator until he was twelve years old. They also didn’t have running water or electricity. They used an outhouse and he said, “In the winters, you really didn’t go the bathroom unless you had to.” They used water from a nearby creek. He didn’t have friends over because he was embarrassed. His family had to make one chicken last for two meals so he might get a leg, or the neck.

Jerry had never eaten McDonald’s until he joined the Air Force at 18 years old. When he joined, they stopped at a McDonalds to eat and burgers were $.10 each. He bought 10 burgers and ate all of them. Later, when he arrived at his first base, they asked him what he wanted for breakfast in the mess hall. He asked for ten eggs and twelve pieces of bacon. He ate all of it. It was the first time he had eaten bacon.

Jerry and I agreed that hardships make you a better person. You appreciate things more. If you earn a new phone, you’re going to love it. But if someone just gives it to you, you don’t always appreciate it as much. He said his kids didn’t want for anything because of how he grew up. But when they wouldn’t finish their food, he would tell them the chicken story. Of course, over time, it became an exaggeration and they’d all laugh about it. I told Jerry about the studies that show spending money on experiences instead of things makes you happier. He agreed.

Jerry also told me that he had three siblings, but one of his brothers had passed away from a brain tumor. He was diagnosed and they put him on chemo. Then he had to have breathing tubes, and all sorts of procedures done. But he still died. His wife thought something was wrong so she made them do a biopsy. It turns out the tumor wasn’t even cancerous. All the chemo and procedures killed him – not cancer. I couldn’t believe it.

We sat down to eat and the next guest arrived. He got settled in the room and came out to join our conversation in the kitchen. He’s a high school math teacher and soccer coach in Portland, Oregon. We all talked about private schools vs public schools and he seemed to really care about his students. He said teaching math now involves a lot of critical thinking and problem solving, not memorizing formulas. People will just Google things so he tries to teach them how to be resourceful.

It was close to 1:30 pm and check-out was at 11:00 am, so I loaded up my car. Jerry checked my tires because I told him that the Subaru dealership in Fairbanks said I needed new ones. He confirmed they need to be replaced.

Corrine and Jerry are made to do bed and breakfasts. They are adorable together. They’re basically still together, but not married. It works for them and their chemistry together is infectious.

We all said our goodbyes and hugged. I pulled away from the driveway feeling grateful for their generosity, kindness, friendship, conversation, and humor. We had such a great couple of days getting to know each other and laughing so much. They felt like family members I hadn’t met until then.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 57-58: Denali National Park

It was time for me to check out of my Airbnb and head towards Denali National Park. Living as a nomad has its challenges. I needed some refills on medications and though my doctor overnighted them to my Airbnb, they still hadn’t arrived. The owner said that overnight to Fairbanks takes about three days and she offered to ship them to me in Anchorage once they arrived.

My next motel was in Healy, Alaska. It’s only an hour and a half drive south of Fairbanks and it’s the closest city to Denali National Park. The drive was fairly flat and I missed  driving through British Columbia and the Yukon. But as I got closer to Healy, mountains appeared in the distance.

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I pulled into the deserted gravel parking lot of the Denali Park Hotel (which was actually a motel) around 4:00 pm. The lobby was in an old train car. I asked the girl at the desk what there was to do there and she gave me a map that included some hikes. She told me the motel used to be inside the park until a law was passed prohibiting accommodations inside the park. They relocated, but were able to keep the original name.

I pulled my car in front of my room and unloaded my bags in the cold wind. The motel seemed to be on a raised foundation and it sounded hollow below my feet.

It was an ok motel, but the view from my window was fantastic! A massive, beautifully majestic mountain loomed just outside.

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Despite the view, I was angry that I paid $375 for two nights there. This was the most expensive place I had stayed so far and it felt unfair that they could charge so much just because it was close to Denali. There are a few hotels right outside the entrance to Denali National Park, but they were $300-$700 per night!

There were just a few businesses (grocery store, gas station, restaurant) along the two-lane highway that ran through the tiny town. I went to the small, expensive grocery store and picked up some food. After returning to the motel to eat dinner, I turned on the TV. I watched a classic, Groundhog Day, and relaxed.

The next morning, I prepared for a hike in Denali National Park. Denali mountain is the tallest peak in North America and only 33% of visitors actually see the top of the peak because clouds often roll in. Visitors can only drive 15 miles into the park. To see more, you have to take a guided tour bus. I considered taking one, but they ranged from six-ten hours and I didn’t want to spend my time inside of a bus. I preferred being closer to nature and hiking.

One of the bartenders in Fairbanks told me about an 8-mile hike (roundtrip) that starts at mile 13 of the drive inside. I found the trail entrance pretty easily and there was plenty of parking. The hike started out flat and easy, but within half of a mile, it started to climb.

I was nervous about wildlife, bears in particular, so I kept my eyes peeled. Once I started to climb, the trees became less dense and I had outstanding views! I was really happy that I chose to hike instead of take a bus.

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After about a mile in, I passed two rangers who were taking a break from repairing a section of the trail. After two miles, the elevation gain was noticeable and the cold wind kicked in harder. Without tree cover, my shorts and a t-shirt weren’t going to cut it. I saw a few other people who were wearing pants and coats and probably thought I was crazy.

I took my pants and jacket out of my backpack and put them on. I’d start with my wind/rain jacket first and see how warm it kept me. I also put my gloves on because my hands were starting to hurt from the cold.

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I arrived at the top and the wind was dramatically worse, making it hard to keep from being blown over. The gorgeous rocky mountains full of green trees reminded me of Norway.

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I continued on the trail that went down the other side of the mountain to the parking lot at mile 15 of the road. The hike wasn’t as pretty as the other side and I needed to hike back the way I came to make it to my car, so after a mile I turned around. The total would be six miles with 1,800 ft elevation gain and I was pleased.

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When I came to the peak again, the wind seemed to be even stronger. A woman and her mother asked me if I’d take a picture of them together. I took theirs and they took mine. As they started to hike away, she yelled something to me. She was about 10 feet away from me and I couldn’t hear her. After having her repeat what she said a few times, I realized she was just telling me to have a good hike. The wind was that loud!

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I thought about putting my coat on, but my jacket was better at resisting the wind. It felt like it must be about 35° F. I can only imagine how cold it is when it’s not summertime.

I was happy to get back to my warm motel and to rest. Attempting to be productive, I downloaded pictures from my phone to my PC and got some writing done.

The next morning, I needed to drive to Homer, Alaska. It was 500 miles away (about eight and a half hours of drive time). I knew it was an ambitious day, but I wanted to check out Homer after the bartender told me about it.

The first two hours of the drive was beautiful as it winded alongside Denali National Park. It was raining and the clouds were hovering above. I was told the best place to see the elusive mountain peak is south of the park. I kept my eye out, but I’m not sure if it saw it. It didn’t bother me. The hike inside the park was beautiful enough for me.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 56: Friends in Fairbanks

It was my last full day in Fairbanks and I hadn’t done any hiking for about a week. I found a trail that was near the Chena Hot Springs. It was about an hour and a half drive northeast, so I filled up on gas before leaving town. I tried my newly learned trick: asking for free coffee with a fill up. It worked!

I arrived at the Angel Rocks Trail around noon. It was a beautiful day. The crisp air felt refreshing as I worked up a sweat. There were a decent number of people hiking that were all heading toward the giant rocks. The trail passed a river, went over a  boardwalk, and then became laden with tree roots.

After about 1.5 miles, I arrived at the giant boulders that overlook the bright green trees lining the mountains.

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The large boulders had cracks that allowed for some climbing. I only climbed on them a little bit, as I didn’t want to fall off. There were a few teenagers who had climbed to the top and were struggling to get down. Thankfully they made it down safe.

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After eating a power bar, I continued on the trail towards the Chena Hot Springs. The trail climbed up the mountain and then down another, but the Chena Hot Springs were another several miles away. I wouldn’t have time to go all the way there and back, but I wanted to keep hiking. I continued on the trail and once I passed the boulders, I was completely alone.

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I enjoyed the scenery, but at times I got scared. I had my bear spray and a bear bell hanging on the bottom of my backpack, just in case. The views of the rolling green mountains were like postcards. I much preferred being out in nature than being in the city of Fairbanks.

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I hiked a couple more miles, but the trail got rocky and wasn’t well maintained. I turned back once I made it to the top of one of the peaks.

By the time I got back to my car it was 6:45 pm. I wanted to check out the ice museum at the Chena Hot Springs, but the last showing was at 7:00 pm. The map showed it was a 10-minute drive, so I raced out of the parking lot.

I arrived at the Chena Hot Springs at 6:58 pm, but had to put on my pants and a coat. I frantically grabbed my pants from the backseat and stood outside my car putting them over my shorts. I grabbed my coat and jogged to the front desk.

The girl behind the counter was helping a co-worker at another register on the opposite side. They moved in slow motion and without any care as they attempted to get some people some food. I paced nervously, hoping to get her attention.

Finally, after five minutes, she casually made her way towards me. I told her I needed a ticket to see the ice museum. She said, “Oh, the group already left.” I explained that I had seen the group on my walk over and asked if I could still join them. She replied, “Well, once they close the door, they can’t let anyone in. I don’t want to sell you a ticket because if you can’t get inside, I don’t have a way to refund you.”

After pleading with her to hurry up and just sell me a ticket and her not selling me a ticket, I ran outside towards the ice museum across the parking lot. Breathing heavily, I knocked on the large wooden door. I heard voices, but the door was locked. I knocked again and a girl said, “Someone is at the door.”

The tour guide opened the door and asked if I had a ticket. I tried to explain that the girl wouldn’t sell me one in case I couldn’t get inside. Out of breath, I pleaded with him to let me inside and I promised to pay later.

Thankfully, the tour guide let me inside and I was able to see the sculptures and rooms completely made of ice! After briefly talking about the place, the tour guide let us explore on our own or purchase a martini.

I sat at the ice bar and got the green apple martini that was poured into a glass made of ice. Thankfully, the ice stool had a piece of fur on top of it.

Sitting next to me was a girl with short, spiky, brown hair and a ski hat on. I assumed she was with one of the groups, but it turned out she was also a single female traveler.

Lilly was in her mid-20s, and was from Anchorage but went to college in the Bay area in California. After her studies, she worked as an engineer at a tech company. She was no longer working there and was figuring out her next step in life. She was in the process of driving her car back to Anchorage so she could leave it there while she traveled overseas for a couple of months. Lilly told me, “You’re the first solo female traveler I’ve encountered in my whole drive so far.” She had been staying in hostels and had only met male solo travelers or women who were with other people.

The tour guide didn’t let us stay inside the museum too long because of the cold. Those of us who purchased the martini brought the ice glass outside. It’s tradition to make a wish and smash the glass. Lilly and I took our glasses and smashed them against the pavement.

Lilly had already been inside the hot springs and said she was going back in. They were open until around 11:30 pm so I figured I’d go in first and then eat some dinner. They had changing rooms and lockers for rent, so Lilly and I headed there.

Once I changed, I walked past the indoor pool filled with screaming children (children can only go to the indoor pool and aren’t allowed in the hot springs). The hot springs had a ramp with a railing that allowed people to slowly get inside. It was extremely slippery so I was thankful for that railing.

There were several people enjoying the hot, salty water. It was fairly large and had a fountain in the middle that was spitting out water like raindrops, and a high-pressure waterfall in the back corner that was great for a massage. As I headed towards the back, I saw Lilly and swam towards her. There were a few people near her and we all started to talk.

A guy who appeared to be in his late 30s started talking with me and it felt as if he was hitting on me. Within a few minutes, however, he mentioned something about climate change and how mankind is destroying the earth. I told him that I was at a museum in the Yukon recently and they listed eight reasons for climate change, only one which was influenced by human interaction. He angrily said, “Oh yeah, and who funded that museum?!”

I replied to the man, “I don’t know who funded the museum, but I don’t think there’s some conspiracy. They just mentioned things like the tilt of the earth, the 40,000 year rotations, things like that. The earth has been cooling long before the industrial age. It was just interesting to hear other things that are happening to the earth from scientists. Things that have been happening for hundreds of thousands of years.”

The guy was visibly upset and responded, “Yeah, well, when 99% of scientists agree about climate change, they’re right.” I asked, “And who has funded all of those scientists?” He responded, “Oh!! Sure, you think it’s some conspiracy!” Confused, I said, “Wait, when you asked me who funded the museum in the Yukon, that was a legit question? But when I ask who funded your scientists, that’s not a legit question, it’s a conspiracy theory?”

Others joined in the conversation, but in a much more productive way. Lilly talked about gas and oil companies wanting to tear Alaska apart and how she is concerned for her home state. I respected her opinion because she was able to have a productive conversation and explain her points. The guy, however, slowly swam away and disappeared.

I laughed to myself and thought, “And that’s why I’m single.” I can’t help it. I like to have good discussions with people and I’m pretty informed. If I’m not informed, I have no problem asking questions. But I’m not the person who will jump on a bandwagon or agree with someone just for the sake of agreeing.

As Lilly and I talked, another guy, Zack, who was nearby starting talking with us too. He was in his early 20s and was stationed at the army base in Fairbanks. He was there alone, so the three of us just started hanging out.

After an hour or so, I was really hungry and told Lilly and Zack I needed some food. They were hungry too, so we all agreed to go to the restaurant on site. It was rustic, but expensive since it was so remote. There was also a hotel onsite but none of us were staying there because of the high price tag.

We put on some clothes, but were still fairly wet as we sat at the table and ordered our food. I was able to learn more about them while we waited. Zack was married and had a child around six months old. He seemed so young to have a spouse, be raising a child, and working for the military.

Lilly had been dating a guy from the UK for the last couple of months and she was going to visit him over there once she dropped her car off in Anchorage. The relationship was still new and she had met him in the bay area. I thought it was sweet she was going to see him in the UK.

The three of us got to know each other better and talked about a few political topics, but not in-depth. It was clear we probably didn’t see eye-to-eye on all things. Zack talked about bringing guns into Canada for Army training and how the Canadians hated the guns. Lilly disliked guns and we laughed when Zack told us the average Alaskan owns 12 guns. Zack definitely made up for Lilly’s lack of a gun.

My heart was so full of joy as we all talked. Three people who come from different backgrounds, who have some different beliefs, but who all recognized we’re just people. We were all there alone, just trying to figure out life. It felt like we had a respect for each other and saw the things we did have in common. I believe we all have more in common with each other than our differences, and it seemed like our little group of three realized that too. We weren’t defined by our political beliefs, we were defined by who we are as people. We talked and listened without judgment and felt at peace in each other’s company.

After dinner, we went back to the hot springs and continued to talk. Zack told us that often times you can see the northern lights there, but the soonest the lights would show was in a few days. He said even when there is snow all around, the place is jamming with people watching the northern lights late into the night. Because it was August, they closed at 11:30 pm that night.

We were still lounging in the hot springs when a flashlight shined on us, telling us we needed to get out. The three of us were the last ones out of the hot spring. After changing, we met each other out front and all friended each other on Facebook. I was really happy to have met these two and to have made some new friends. Lilly is a smart engineer working her tail off in a male-dominated world. Zack is defending our country while also being there for his family. My experiences during my travels have proved time and time again that despite our differences in this tumultuous political climate, we can still learn to respect and enjoy each other.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 48: Tear Inducing Scenery

The Liard River Hot Springs was only a 45-minute drive north from where I was staying at the Northern Rockies Lodge. I drank a protein shake, loaded up my car, and headed to the hot springs.

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When I arrived, I paid a small entrance fee and the guy at the gate told me I would need to park and then walk for about 15 minutes on a boardwalk through the swampy area to get to the springs.

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The area was surrounded by trees and was very beautiful, despite the strong smell of sulfur that emanated from the springs. After changing, I slowly got into the hot springs. The further to the right that I went, the hotter it got. It was quiet and most people weren’t talking. I felt awkward just hanging out alone.

After 15 minutes, I swam near a few people so I could listen in on their conversation. They talked about the fires in Toronto and how it was going to take hours before the redness subsided from their face due to the heat.

After 30 minutes, I was getting too hot so I got out, changed, and walked back to my car. Shortly after leaving the hot springs, I came across buffalo on the side of the road! There must have been more than 20 of them on both sides of the highway, and occasionally crossing the road. The few of us on the road pulled unto the shoulder to take pictures and video. It was slightly raining, but the buffalo didn’t seem to care. They just kept nonchalantly grazing.

I continued north as dark blue clouds rolled in, making the mountains look even more majestic.

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I crossed into the Yukon, which is a different territory than British Columbia. The landscape was so beautiful and so isolated, that tears came to my eyes. I couldn’t believe I was fortunate enough to be here and experience this wondrous place.

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When I arrived at the town of Watson Lake, I saw a forest made entirely out of sign posts. I pulled over and saw thousands of street signs from around the world! It was incredible. The signs were nailed to giant wooden posts standing far above my head.

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In 1942, the town of Watson Lake didn’t exist, but there was a US army camp located there. It was common for the military to put up a sign post indicating the direction of surrounding communities. One day, Private Carl K. Lindley was recovering from an injury at the base and added his hometown sign of Danville, Illinois because he was homesick.

The Sign Post Forest has become world famous and there are now over 72,000 signs. Visitors who didn’t bring their own can buy a piece of wood from the visitor center. I walked through the forest amazed and got excited when I’d see a sign from a place I knew. It was such a neat concept and I had no idea it existed.

I drove to the gas station next door to fill up and to see if I wanted to stay the night in Watson Lake. The gas station was sort of like a truck stop, with a small market and a restaurant attached to it. In the restroom, there was a large orange bucket on the counter filled with condoms. The sign warned of STI’s and said the condoms were free. I thought, “Whoa, looks like I’m in the Yukon now.”

I sat in my car and decided to stay in the next town, Whitehorse. I booked a place on Orbitz that was a B & B but they only offered a very small breakfast. The drive continued to impress me and the fellow travelers became fewer and farther in between. Sometimes I pulled over in one of the look-out areas, and other times I just stopped right on the road, rolled down my window (or quickly stepped out) and took pictures.

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The rain stopped and I passed a coyote on the side of the road. The road winded through the mountains, and lakes just kept appearing. The Yukon was giving British Columbia a run for its money. The dark blue clouds returned, bringing forth more rain. The sun reflected off of a giant lake as it started to set. Everywhere I looked was like a postcard.

It was more than eight hours of driving that day, but I never got bored. People have asked me if I listen to podcasts and wondered how I could tolerate so much driving. If you saw the scenery, you’d understand. It’s breathtaking and peaceful. All I need is my music.

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I successfully arrived at Whitehorse, but was struggling to find the B & B. I called the owner and he explained it’s actually located 30 minutes south of the town, which meant I passed it. As I left town, a rainbow appeared but I was heading into dark storm clouds and it was getting dark.

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Since it was dark and raining, I couldn’t find the small gravel road that would take me up the hill to the small B & B. I called the owner again and he stayed on the phone with me for several minutes until I could find the road.

I drove to the top of the hill and arrived at 10:00 pm. There were a few cars in the gravel lot and I ran inside, trying to avoid the rain and the cold (it dropped to 50 degrees F!). My room key was on the small entrance table, so I grabbed it and walked down the hallway to my room. It had two twin beds and I had my own bathroom. Of course, there was a creepy spider hanging out inside.

The B & B had a shared kitchen, living room, and dining room. There seemed to be around five rooms and I could hear some kids playing around in a room near mine. After a nice warm shower, I went to sleep.

In the morning, I woke up too late to have the small breakfast and coffee, so I packed up my stuff. I was getting really behind in my blog posts so I asked the girl who was cleaning rooms if I could stay in the dining area and use the Wifi for a little while. My room was emptied so she could clean it. She let me stay and I ended up writing for the next two hours.

I had a great view out the window and I enjoyed being in the middle of nowhere. I like cities too, but after spending 15 years in Los Angeles, I prefer less crowded areas. Being in such a remote area, I realized how much light pollution there is in cities. The darkness and lack of people makes life feel simpler. It helps clear my head and not to be caught up in the rat-race.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

 

 

Day 39: Feeling Vulnerable on a Hike

During the bike tour, the guide recommended a few hikes in the area that I wanted to try. I was already staying on the side of a mountain in West Vancouver, so the drive would be an easy 15 minutes to the trail head.

That morning, I finished up a blog post about how I had felt on day 5: depressed. I was nervous about posting it because it was so raw. The beginning of my trip was not easy. I experienced a tremendous amount of change in a very short period of time and had a hard time figuring out my new normal.

I uploaded the blog post and left for the hike around 4:00 pm. When I arrived at Eagle Bluff Trail, the Olympic rings were still on display from 2010. There was a vacant ski lift, swaying in the cool summer breeze. The clearing of trees showed the runs that skiers traversed the hills during the winter months.

The total trail was just under six miles and 1,500 ft elevation gain. Large rocks quickly appeared on the dirt trail, making the incline a little more difficult. I passed several ponds and lakes.

The green trees against the bright blue sky reminded me of why I wanted to go to the Pacific Northwest so badly. After being in the California drought for more than a decade, it was what I needed. I could feel life growing in the forest.

Continuing to climb, the trail turned into roots from the towering trees above. They provided great shade, but were definitely trip hazards. A fellow hiker tripped on a root when she looked up to see me and fell. The guy with her and I made sure she was ok and they continued on.

Starting the trail, I didn’t have cell service. As I continued to climb, cell service would sporadically appear and a text message would come through – messages of concern from friends and family. Then the Facebook notifications appeared. Words of encouragement after reading my blog post on depression.

I started to panic and thought, “Why did I post that? I shouldn’t have written about it.” I felt embarrassed and exposed as I thought about all of the people who I’m connected with on Facebook – old coworkers, family, friends, and neighbors. I desperately wanted to take down the post but didn’t have much cell service. The entire climb up, I worried about that post and how it would make me look: weak.

When I arrived at the top of the mountain, there were a few people taking pictures and enjoying the view. I found a large rock to sit on, eat a powerbar, and admire the view. It was incredible!

Looking to the west, I could see mountains surrounded by the ocean. To the south was the ocean with some smoke in the background from a fire burning in the bog. To the southeast was the city of Vancouver. With 180 degree, the views didn’t stop.

I sat in awe and reminded myself that the reason I’m blogging about my trip is because I want people to experience what I’m experiencing. Sometimes it’s lonely, scary, and confusing. I was determined not to be afraid of revealing who I really am. I’ve spent so much of my life trying to please others and to be “good enough.”

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I believe God created each of us to be unique and I think he delights in who we are. I try my best to follow the path God has set for me. But society, parents, the workplace, friends, the church, and strangers all have expectations of who we should be. After trying to get the approval of all of these people, I finally broke. It was exhausting and left me feeling alone. Over the last few months, I decided to be me. I have to keep reminding myself of this as it doesn’t come naturally. I’m a people pleaser and I hate disappointing people. I decided I would leave the post up.

The climb was worth the view. A chipmunk attempted to get into my backpack several times and I had to keep scaring him away. I headed back down the mountain so I would finish before dark. On my way back down, I took a wrong turn and ended up at the top of the ski lift. I saw two very fit and attractive guys who looked to be in their late 20s taking photos. One guy had his shirt off, while the other took pictures. They also had a small dog with them. I couldn’t help but laugh in my head. Hopefully the pictures were for something legitimate, but I wondered if they were for his Tinder profile.

When I walked around the ski lift area, the bugs started to attack and they seemed to love my ears. The buzzing sound would make me scream every time. The guys I had seen a few minutes earlier showed up and asked if I knew where the trail was to get back down. I told them I think we made a wrong turn and it was back up the other way. Of course, a bug flew near my ear and I screamed, looking like a maniac.

The guys started heading down the rocky path. I went back to the trail and headed towards where I thought it diverged. I ran into a group of four young, attractive people in their 20s. One of the girls asked me for directions and I showed her on my map where they needed to go. I asked if they were heading to the top because it was getting pretty late. They said they were heading to the top to watch the fireworks.

My bike tour guide told me about the fireworks. It was their annual firework competition. Sweden was going to display their best fireworks by setting them off from a barge in the water. The previous Saturday, South Africa showcased their fireworks and the final show would be the following Saturday with South Korea.

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I didn’t want to hike down in the dark after the fireworks. Plus, I had a great view of the harbor from my Airbnb. I continued to the bottom and made it my car around 9:00 pm. When I got back to the Airbnb, I realized I didn’t have any food. I used Yelp to find a place, but most places didn’t deliver to West Vancouver.

I called a pizza place in West Vancouver and asked if they’d deliver. The man who answered was annoyed and said he would not deliver because they closed at 10:00 pm and he’s really busy. I said it was only 9:20 pm but I could come pick it up. After arguing with him, and having to call him back, he took my order and said, “If you’re not here to pick it up in 15 minutes, I’m closing up and you won’t be able to pick it up”. Dang.

I hurried there and picked up my pizza. They were not busy and I’m guessing he just wanted to close early to see the fireworks. I took my pizza back to the Airbnb and ate in the large dining room that overlooked the harbor. I sat in the dark so I could see the fireworks better. For 30 minutes, Sweden showed off their best fireworks in a stunning show.

I read through the messages, comments, texts, and emails that people had sent me about my blog post. Even though I still felt embarrassed, it felt good to know so many people could relate to my struggle and were there to encourage me when I needed it. I’m not alone. To date, that’s one of my most read posts.

Post Edited by: Mandy Strider

 

Days 9-11: Hood River, Oregon

After breakfast in Bend, I headed to Hood River, Oregon. I kept seeing these adorable little huts with drive-through lanes, called Dutch Bros Coffee. One of the huts was across the street from my motel and I stopped in the day before. During that trip, I ordered a delicious blended coffee drink and the guy gave me a stamp card and stamped all the little coffees so my next coffee would be free. On my way to Hood River, I saw another hut and stopped for my free coffee. They have genius marketing because the cute little design made me want coffee every time I saw one.

Full of green trees, mountains, and blue sky, the three-hour drive was beautiful…until I climbed to the top of the mountain. Suddenly, the sky turned cloudy and ominous. I stopped at this look-out point to take a picture and it was so cold and windy that I hurried and took my picture and ran back to the car!

Once I got to Hood River, it was warmer again – probably in the low 80s. It was quite nice outside. Hood River is a mountain town through a gorge, about an hour outside of Portland. It has about 7,700 people and about 30 minutes east of there is The Dalles, with a population of 15,500. I booked a motel in The Dalles since they had cheaper options, but my friend Tracey had just moved to Hood River so I headed there first.

I arrived in Hood River around 3:00 pm and went straight to Tracey’s house. Tracey used to be a Vice President at the company I worked for, had recently retired, and moved to Hood River. We had the same last day at the company and I had made a video for her retirement to celebrate all of her contributions. She and her husband were settling into their new home and I was their first visitor!

Tracey showed me around her new house and the charming backyard that was surrounded by trees. We had a snack and caught up on both of our recent adventures. Then we went for a walk around her neighborhood. The neighborhood is on top of a hill with great views down to the gorge. We walked down a gravel walking path near her house and passed farms with cows and farms with berries. It was peaceful, quiet, and it felt good to get some fresh air.

I look up to Tracey. She’s a great role model because she’s intelligent, hardworking, and curious. She had only been in Hood River for a couple of weeks and had already volunteered for a local organization and found all sorts of local hikes. Her capacity for work is truly astonishing.

For dinner, Tracey and her husband (Farron) took me to a nice restaurant by the river. It was the first time I had quality food at a nice restaurant for quite some time. We had a really fun time with great discussions. After dinner, I headed to The Dalles to check into my motel.

It was dark when I arrived to Motel 6 and the lobby was small. I asked if there was a room on the first floor and was told no, there was nothing available so I’d have to be on the second floor. The woman instructed me to park on the other side of the building, towards the back because there was a door and steps there, which were closer to my room. I followed her instructions but my keycard wouldn’t open the door. Frustrated, I dragged my suitcase and bags all the way to the door in the middle of the motel. That door wasn’t even locked so I went inside and first went to the lobby. The woman who helped me was on the phone so another woman assisted me.

Me: “My keycard wouldn’t open the back door so before I go all the way upstairs to my room, can you make sure I have a key that works?”

The woman: “Oh, that back door is persnickety. Guests tell us that sometimes it works, but only after they try it over and over. And other times it just doesn’t work at all.”

Me: “Persnickety. Really? Well you should tell that to her (glare at the other woman) because she specifically told me to park by that door so now I have to lug all my luggage around.”

Woman: “Sorry about that.”

Huffing and puffing, I reluctantly made multiple trips to carry my luggage to my room. A sign by the broken door read “Do not prop door open.” Really? Well if your door worked, people wouldn’t have to prop it open. And why does it matter? Considering your middle door doesn’t even lock. Things like this really irritate me.

When I got to my room, I realized it was decent and would do just fine for a few nights. There was a mini-fridge, which is always nice to have.

The next morning, I researched some hikes nearby and found one called Eightmile Loop Trail, which was actually 7 miles long. It also had over 1,200 feet elevation gain and was listed as only lightly trafficked.

I headed out and drove to the east and then south for about 45 minutes. The east side of the mountains were dry with yellow fields of dead grass. Occasionally, I spotted farms, with their giant rolling sprinklers painting the fields bright green. It looked like puzzle pieces because if it wasn’t being watered, it was dry and dead.

I arrived at the trailhead and there was a man about to start mountain biking and shortly after, a woman also showed up to mountain bike. The trail was a loop and started off covered in trees so there was a lot of shade. It was very green and lush, which I was happy about since the drive had been dry. There were wild flowers along the trail and it mostly climbed for the first five miles. The trail was well maintained but narrow and had a couple small bridges to cross over streams.

After about five miles, the trees cleared to this breathtaking view that extended for miles. It was incredible to see the thousands of pine trees that rolled over the mountains. To the east in the far distance, I could see where the land turned to more of a desert. This happens because the mountains are so high up, they gather all the moisture (which creates all the greenery) but then after the weather passes the mountains, there’s no precipitation left (so you end up with more of a desert environment).

After taking in the amazing view, I headed down the tree-covered trail towards the finish. All of a sudden, I saw a deer about 30 feet in front of me, on the trail. He just sort of looked at me for a minute and then slowly walked to the side and started eating some flowers.

I got back to my car and headed back to the motel, but I decided to take the route that heads west so I could go through Hood River on my way back. Unfortunately, I didn’t have cell service. I knew I needed to turn right from the trail head and thought it would be straight forward on how to get there. I was wrong. The road suddenly turned into gravel, was surrounded by trees, and nobody was around. After 30 minutes of this, the road split into 3 options. I couldn’t tell which way I should take and started to feel a little panicked as it was around 6:30pm and the sun was getting close to setting behind the mountain.

After sitting there for a minute, I decided turning left would be my best bet. I continued down the gravel road and started thinking what I would do if it got dark and I was still driving around on these roads. Would I turn around and try to backtrack? Wait, didn’t I make other turns? Would I remember where I turned?

After about another 10 minutes I saw a pickup truck coming from the opposite direction. I contemplated flagging him down and asking where I should go but I was too embarrassed. I continued on and the road turned back into pavement so I felt like I must be closer to a sign. To this point, there were no street signs or signs giving any directions. I pulled over when I saw an amazing view of Mount Hood to take a picture.

After another 10 minutes or so, I came to a road with a sign directing me to Hood River and I eventually regained cell service.

When I got back to the motel, I decided I would go on the 4-day backpacking trip with Mandy and her friend. I called the hostel in Portland to move my reservation and the guy said he would have to move people around and he’d email me in the morning to confirm if he was able to move it.

When I woke up, I had an email from the hostel saying they were able to move my reservation. I let Mandy know I would be joining her and then I spent the next several hours getting my supplies ready. I hadn’t done an overnight with just my backpack in about two years. I went to K-mart nearby and got some snacks and sorted through all my stuff.

It was the 4th of July and Tracey had invited me over for dinner with her and her husband. We hung out for a bit before enjoying some grilled burgers, potato salad, and vegetable salad. The food was so delicious and I was really enjoying having a home-cooked meal. And as always, great conversation.

Around 9:50pm, Tracey and I decided to drive around to see if we could find a spot on top of the mountain so we could see the fireworks. As we drove around the small-town streets, we could see people lined up everywhere – in parks, the sides of streets, the side of the road. We weren’t going to attempt to go to the bottom of the gorge where the majority of people were so we drove up a curvy road that went up the side of the mountain. Tracey found a place that she could park her car (on the side of the road) by slightly off-roading. There were lots of people who did the same thing along the road.

We got out of the car, crossed the street and had a beautiful view of the gorge. The fireworks started right away and we stood next to a couple of people, where the trees had a bit of a break so we could see the fireworks. It was so much fun! Occasionally a car drove by and we’d scoot closer to the grass; otherwise, we stood on the road. The show was great, there was a cool breeze, and it was just a fun outdoorsy environment.

After the firework show, I headed back to my motel to get a good night’s sleep in preparation for the backpacking trip the next day.

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek